2017 Holidays Event
It’s the holiday season again in Nulhora. After two years of craziness, what exciting things could happen this time?
Chapter One - Honorary Holiday “Hero”
It was that time of year again. Like clockwork, more snow drifted down from the sky, blanketing the little town of Nulhora just as it does every year.
Well, perhaps the town couldn’t be considered “little” anymore—at least, not as little as it had been just a few years ago. The magical teleporters, built just a year and a half ago, had brought about a lot of trade between the once-tiny backwoods town and the major tropical city of Alhira, triggering a relatively quick growth in Nulhora’s size and overall wealth.
The celebrations in Nulhora were very different from Alhira, and, as such, the northern town was starting to get quite a bit more traffic coming in from the south to experience the holiday festival. The mayor was coordinating a celebration larger than any of the previous years, hoping to really impress their visitors.
A gust of wind stung your face, and the little snowflakes that had been carried with it stuck to your skin. With a grumble, you looked to the still undecorated town.
The mayor said he had been coordinating the festival, right? Then why is it that you got stuck with all the work, again?
The wind bit at your face once more, and you scowled as you recounted the one-sided conversation.
“Well, you’ve saved the holidays three times already, so clearly you are the one best fit for this job! Ohoho!”
It was a convenient excuse to get out of actually doing the work, you thought. But there was no use crying over it now—you were trusted with the responsibility, so you were going to do your best to make this holiday festival as impressive as possible.
Step one was simple enough: Find people (or dragons) willing to help you rush through these holiday decorating shenanigans.
Thankfully, there were plenty of Nulhorans that love the holidays and are more than willing to lend you a helping hand, and it didn’t take long before you had amassed a small group of people and dragons eager to assist.
There were many familiar faces, and the old resident Holly Dragon, Janus, had requested some help from some friends you had not seen in years—Reed the Yulebuck, Godsibb the Winter Magi, Joy the Snow Angel, Graciella the Ribbon Dancer, and Nikolaus the Wrapping-Wing. You were taken by surprise when they approached you with Janus, but overjoyed to see them again.
“My, it has been quite a few years now, has it not?” Reed hummed with a nod of his head. “You seem as poised as ever, old friend. Pray tell, how have you been?”
“Yes, Janus has told us you’ve had quite an interesting time these past few years,” Joy chimed in, sending a smile your way.
With an awkward chuckle, you gave them as short a version as you could manage of the past few years of holiday turmoil. It was almost comical how the dragons’ heads leaned in in curious interest as you recounted the tales.
“Goodness, you have experienced much,” Godsibb exclaimed, his claws clasping together from excitement. “And you have made it through each time! Like some kind of hero.”
Giggles erupted from the friendly group and you could feel your cheeks heat up in embarrassment. Stammering, you made sure to let them know that it was not you alone, and you have had a lot of help from others.
This made Reed’s leafy wings flutter. “Ah, yes, of course,” he chimed in. “That other human boy, Avery, was it? He was also with us those years back. It is good to know the two of you have kept in touch. Is he also here?”
Wryly you shook your head. He had gone off on another adventure with that young kid Ezer after last year’s weather mishap.
“Well, he has made it a habit to visit this time of year,” Janus chimed in sagely, picking up on your disappointment. “Perhaps he will visit again. I am sure he would be happy to see all of you again, and Aurora, when she comes by... say, where is she, anyhow?”
Graciella closed her eyes. “She said she was going to bring a few more friends to assist us. She may be a day or two before she comes back.”
You could not contain your smile knowing that all of you would be able to see each other again, this time under less dire circumstances. Just so long as Avery does stop by, that is.
The still undecorated streets of Nulhora drew your attention away from the dragons in front of you. That’s right—you still had to decorate the town! Catching up any further would have to wait until the festively-coloured elephant in the room was addressed.
The cold air tickled your chest as you inhaled through your nose. Time to get started.
Chapter Two - A Slight Saint Situation
A day had already come and gone since the festival decorating responsibilities had been dropped, rather unsurprisingly, on your lap.
You glanced up and down the main street of Nulhora. Already, it had gone from completely unimpressive and undecorated to being glitzy and festive, complete with tinsel and baubles on the nearby trees and light posts. Though it’s the only street in the entire town that’s got any sort of decoration, you still declare it a victory. Just so long as no one visiting goes anywhere else in the town, that is…
The sound of footsteps crunching in the snow drew your attention away from the decorations.
Ansel, the town’s resident chipper delivery boy, was happily waddling towards you with three disproportionally large boxes stacked in his arms. The poor boy looked like he could fall backward at any moment, yet he was still happily grinning at you as he approached.
“Hey!” he called as he stepped onto the cobblestone path, continuing on his way towards you. He stopped but a few paces away and let out a huff of a breath he had been holding, before setting down the boxes on the path. Immediately, he fixed his gloves and started to rummage through his messenger bag at his hip, looking for something. He pulled out a folded up piece of parchment and passed it over to you animatedly. “The mayor wanted me to give you this note!”
A sinking feeling hit you as you took the note. What was it he needed now? Ansel watched you with his head cocked to the side as you apprehensively opened the note and began to read it.
“Is something wrong?” he asked as a worried pout formed on his face.
You held the letter out to him, encouraging him to read it, and he carefully took it from your hand. Holding it in front of his face with both hands, he started to read it. Slowly his eyebrows raised up higher on his face and his eyes started to light up.
“Saint Nikolaus!” he exclaimed merrily. “He wants there to be a Saint Nikolaus this year! How exciting! I wonder who it could be!”
You stared at Ansel with a deadpan expression—he was way more excited about this than you were expecting. How were you supposed to find someone that could play a convincing enough Saint Nikolaus?
With Reed’s assistance, you were able to reach the top of an obnoxiously large fir tree to hang more baubles and tinsel. Though you were stressed, the nostalgic feeling of riding on the old Yulebuck’s back and the small talk between the two of you had kept a smile on your face.
Even so, you found yourself lost in thought, trying to figure out just who in the world would play a good job of the merry Saint. You had thought of Liud first, but he declined the request to play the part. He did, however, say he would supply the reindeer for the height of the festival. So at least that was something.
But there was still no Saint Nikolaus, and you could not for the life of you figure out who would fit the role. Just when you thought decorating the town would be hard enough, the mayor just had to throw you this curveball.
“Is something on your mind, little one?” came Janus’ voice from below. You glanced down towards the Holly, who had been watching you and Reed for who knows how long.
“Yes, it seems you are distracted,” Reed added in, his voice echoing in your mind. “You have been observing that bauble with incredible dedication for the past minute.”
You quickly shook your head and sighed before explaining the contents of the mayor’s letter to you and your current predicament. Janus hummed as he thought.
“Perhaps there is someone that could play the role…” he trailed off as he looked up towards Reed. The two of them stared at one another for a few moments, and Reed finally picked up on Janus’ apparent hint.
A bellow of laugher left the Yulebuck as his wings fluttered. “Ahah! Yes, perhaps there is,” he said as he shot you a funny look. The two of them clearly had an idea in mind that confused you greatly, but after a few moments, you looked between them fearfully. There was no way you were going to play that role.
Your expression earned a laugh from both dragons, and Janus slowly shook his head. “Not you, little one,” he assured. “Do not worry about Saint Nikolaus for now. I am sure the pieces will fall well into place when the time comes.”
Though the lack of a clear idea was unsettling, Janus seemed like he had an idea beyond what you had already tried to think up. Deciding to put your faith in the elder Holly, you nodded your head and went back to decorating the fir tree.
Chapter Three - Sweet Surprises and Strange Situations
The schedule for today had been to tackle decorating the northern side of town.
Had been, until you noticed something unfortunate on your morning jaunt through Nulhora: It was a little bit warm.
Okay, maybe a “little bit” was an understatement. It was pretty warm, and you were starting to feel uncomfortable in your parka.
Cursing to yourself, you wondered why in the world the sun was so uncharacteristically bright. It was starting to feel like it had last year when Ezer had messed with the Ice Temple. With a grumble, you turned on your heel and started back towards the town hall. You had been planning on visiting Alhira at some point again anyway, so this was a good enough excuse to check up on how the weather was down there.
The friendly Magi Dragon at the teleporter waved to you with the tip of his tail and stepped off to the side of the platform to grant you access. “Heading to Alhira?” he asked, to which you simply nodded as you stepped onto the glyph in the floor. “Alrighty! One trip straight to Alhira! Hold onto your parka!”
A low groan emitted from the teleportation glyph beneath your feet that slowly raised in pitch and volume as the glyph began to glow.
With a flash, you were teleported away to the far away city of Alhira. Upon arrival, you were greeted by yet another Magi Dragon, as well as the receptionist just to the side of the teleporter. You waved to them but had no time to waste and politely hurried towards the towering doors of the city hall.
Your opening of the door was accompanied by a loud creek from the wood and you squinted your eyes as the outside area was revealed to you.
Once your eyes adjusted to the sunlight, you were shocked by what you saw.
… Everything was normal. Completely and utterly normal. A buildup of tension to absolutely nowhere. It was still hot and sunny, and people were still walking around, shopping and playing in the waters like they would on any other normal day.
What should have come as a relief just managed to make you a little more nervous. If everything was normal here, then why was it getting so hot back in Nulhora?
You had been so lost in your thoughts that the two people approaching you went completely unnoticed.
“…ey,” came a masculine voice. “Hey, are you in there?”
Eyes fluttering from confusion, you looked around before focusing on the source of the sudden voice.
It was the Thalassian, Zeto! And Nana, his sister, was standing beside him, smiling and waving shyly at you. Behind them was a modestly sized freckled Shallow Water Dragon with a few baskets strapped to its back, probably full of supplies to trade with the Alhirans.
Zeto tilted his head. “Is something on your mind? You did not even notice us approach you.”
With an awkward nod, you informed them of the worryingly warm weather at your hometown. Nana’s expression grew visibly concerned at the news, and Zeto furrowed his scaled brow.
“That is very odd,” he responded, moving his fin-like hand to cup his chin in thought. “And I assume you had travelled here, because you thought it may have something to do with the temple here again?”
To that you only nod your head and glance to Nana.
“Um…” she spoke timidly and glanced to the boardwalk, finding sudden interest in the wood grain. “I do not sense anything is amiss…”
Well, that was rather unfortunate.
Zeto put his hand back to his side and shook his head. “Unfortunately it seems to be an event isolated to only your town, friend. Nothing out of the ordinary has occurred here.”
With a resigned sigh, you nodded your head and thanked them anyway for their help. You excused yourself, but just as you turned to head back into the city hall, a small voice stopped you.
“Ahh, wait,” Nana called out to you. “Before you go…”
She went to the Shallow Water and slipped her hand into one of the baskets. After a moment, she pulled something small out, and concealed it in her webbed hand before making her way back towards you. You craned your head to look up to her. Thalassians were really quite tall, you thought to yourself.
“This time of year… your people give each other gifts, yes?” she asked you quietly. The question had taken you by surprise, but you managed to nod without an awkward pause, and she smiled in response. “That is good… I had brought this here, from our home. I would like you to have it.”
She held out her hands and opened them, revealing a small but lovely shiny sea shell. Carefully, you took it and thanked her, before turning it over a few times in your own hand. The top side of the shell was a slightly sandy texture and tan with tiny flecks of blue and gold speckled throughout, while the underside was incredibly smooth and reminiscent of the pink shade of water mana.
“Our home is far away in the ocean,” Zeto chimed in as Nana returned to him and their dragon. “Though we Thalassians live closer to the shores than our cousins, we still live underwater, and shells like those are something you do not usually see around the settlements of land-dwellers such as your kind.”
“I hope you like it…” Nana timidly mumbled. To this, you smiled broadly and nodded. It really was a beautiful shell.
Zeto and Nana bid you farewell as you went back on your way inside and to the teleporter. The revelation about the utter normalcy of Alhira set you back to square one, which was a massive disappointment, but the trip had not been a total bust—you had gotten to see your friends and had gotten quite a lovely gift.
The sounds of the teleporter rung in your ears again, and you closed your eyes as you were once again teleported back home.
Chapter Four - Familiar Faces
Just a day before your trip to Alhira, a familiar trio had been traveling through the snowy, tree-lined mountainside on their way to Nulhora.
“Ugh, I am so over this snow,” Ezer groaned as he trudged through the snow, the white fluff crunching beneath his toed shoes with each step.
Avery let out a huff of amusement as he trailed just a few steps behind the younger boy. “You complain a lot,” he commented simply, knowing it would prick on the child’s nerves.
“Oh come on! You can’t be telling me you aren’t cold too, with your flimsy cloak and v-neck tunic!” Ezer snipped back at Avery, sending him a childishly exasperated look over his shoulder. Avery quirked his brow at the boy.
“Don’t bring my fashion sense into this…” he muttered in response, to which Ezer simply rolled his eyes and looked ahead again. “Besides, my tunic is woolen and I have been here often enough the weather doesn’t bother me. You just complain a lot. Who is the one here carrying the sack of things on his back, again? Oh, right… the one that’s not whimpering.”
Ezer shot him yet another look, which caused Avery to chuckle. Eben let out a noise of disapproval at Ezer, almost like he was chastising the boy for his attitude, and Ezer looked to his hatchling companion.
“You can’t be siding with him,” he said, and Eben simply stuck out his tiny dragon tongue. Ezer huffed. “You both are ridiculous.”
With a shake of his head, Avery started to walk faster and passed by the younger mage. Before Ezer could shoot a comment his way, Avery looked back towards him.
“Calm it, I’m only checking ahead to make sure things are safe,” he said and looked forward again. After a moment’s pause, he added, “Don’t want you to get all hurt, since you’re so dainty and all.”
Before Ezer could get Avery back, Avery jogged forward and out of the boy’s reach. He checked their surroundings, and after scanning the fields just a short jaunt ahead, came to a conclusion about something.
“Ezer,” he stated simply, getting the boy’s attention. “We’re still about a day away from town, so we’re going to have to set up camp for tonight. Think you can manage another night in a tent?”
Annoyed, Ezer shrugged his shoulders and sighed. “I guess, but if there’s a bunch of snow like there was up in the mountains yesterday, I’m taking your blanket and your cloak as collateral.”
Avery chuckled at the boy’s threat. “My blanket and cloak as collateral? That’s a bit much, isn’t it?”
Ezer hummed and glanced to the suspicious bag full of things on Avery’s back. “Then maybe I’ll just take the bag…” he started but was quickly shot a dangerous look by the young man. “Alright alright, I was just kidding. No need to get all grumpy with me, I’m not gonna take your presents.”
The acknowledgement of the contents of the bag caused Avery to become flustered, and Ezer snickered at his awkwardness.
“I find it hilarious that you gathered all these things and yet even acknowledging what they are causes you embarrassment,” Ezer said. “Why’s that? Too cool to give some townspeople some presents?”
Another side-eye from Avery made Ezer halt his teasing. “Fine, fine, I’m done I’m done. I promise.”
“Thanks,” Avery said with a sigh. “Let’s just find a spot to set up camp for the night and be done with it.”
The crackling of the campfire accompanied by the whistling sound of the chilly night’s breeze was soothing. Avery stared into the flames and allowed his gaze to follow an ember that flitted up into the air.
“So,” Ezer suddenly said, drawing Avery’s attention to him. “We’re going to Nulhora, right? To see a certain someone?”
Avery closed his eyes and let out a sigh as he nodded. “Yes, like I said before. It’s been a year and I like to keep in touch. How many times must you ask that?”
Ezer shrugged and reached out to pet Eben, who was curled up in the boy’s lap, asleep. “Just kinda funny that you travel so far every year just to say hi,” he said.
Avery shook his head in response, “How else am I to say hi? They live in Nulhora.”
The silence from Ezer’s side made it clear that he had no way to argue with that reasoning, which Avery was thankful for. As talented as the boy was with magic, and as interesting as it was to have an apprentice, he was still just a kid, and kids tend to ask way more questions than Avery liked to answer.
It didn’t take long before the golden moon Aurax bathed the camp in its warm glow. Ezer had taken Eben to his tent and went to sleep about an hour prior, and Avery had stayed awake, tending to the fire and enjoying the peace and quiet.
Though he was sitting close to the fire, he noticed it growing increasingly warmer as the night went by. The fire hadn’t grown any larger than earlier, and the temperature going up at night made little sense. Avery muttered under his breath and slowly got up, being careful to not make much noise as he stepped away from the camp. Much to his concern, it was still relatively warm as he walked away from the fire and into the woods.
“… This has to be some sort of joke,” he mumbled as he touched the snow on a nearby branch. Bringing his hand closer to his face he inspected the softer, slightly melted snow, and scowled. “It’s not a joke… it really is getting warmer…”
He had wished the circumstances around traveling to Nulhora and visiting his friend would be normal this time, but perhaps that just wasn’t meant to be. His hand rested on the satchel at his hip and he stared down at the ground, deep in thought. He had a feeling something would go wrong, but he was still frustrated nonetheless.
Perhaps it would clear itself up by the time he arrived in town, but he had a hunch it wouldn’t be quite so simple a resolution.
Chapter Five - Generous Gifter
Your arrival back in Nulhora did not go unnoticed, as almost immediately after you stepped off of the teleporter, you were confronted by the mayor with yet another task. This time, wrapping presents was added to your list of things to do. Even after expressing your concern over the weather to the mayor, he simply waved it off, saying that presents and decorations were much more important.
Though you failed to see how wrapping boxes was more important than investigating the bizarrely warm weather melting the snow, you could not argue with the mayor, so off you went to go wrap some presents. You made haste to the post office, where these presents were supposedly being stored for now. Courier Ansel and Post Master Hand were both mid-conversation near the counter, and the jingle from the bell on the door silenced their talk, both turning to look to you as you stepped inside.
“Hello!” came Ansel’s cheery voice almost at once. “You’re back!”
“You are here to help the boy with present-wrapping… right?” the old Post Master asked, not wasting any time, though his voice was kind enough. You nodded in response to his question, and the old man smiled. “Great. You two come with me, the presents are all in the back storage room.”
Though Hand was old, he still walked with a confident stride—he easily outpaced both you and Ansel as he led you both to the back room. Upon opening the door, you noticed the huge pile of boxes neatly organized across the room from the door. As Ansel’s excitement peaked, your heart sank at the idea of how much work this was going to be.
“Look at all the boxes of presents we’ve been getting all year,” Ansel exclaimed excitedly as he scurried across the room towards the pile. “Isn’t it impressive? I have never seen such a thing.”
You sent a nervous glance to Hand, who simply smiled widely at you. “We have been getting sent boxes all year, with notes saying to hold on to them until the holiday, so we could hand them out to the kids.”
“And what is more amazing is that the person that is doing it is not telling us who they are,” Ansel chirped whilst picking up a box. “They are just sending a bunch of cool things to give away...”
What a curious situation, you thought. A mystery individual, sending boxes to the post office for holiday presents? You glanced to the Post Master again, who was still smiling, albeit this time he seemed like he had an inkling of knowledge that Ansel did not have.
“Well, regardless, they do still need wrapped up,” Hand said, to which Ansel nodded.
“Yes, sir! We will get on it right away, sir!” he responded with a chipper grin before turning to you. “Come on, let’s get started!”
As the two of you chatted and wrapped presents, you learned more of the curious tale behind the pile of gifts: the Post Master did actually know the sender, but he refused to tell Ansel, or anyone else for that matter, who it was that was sending them.
Regardless of who it was, the contents of the boxes were quite extraordinary; there were things from many different areas of the continent, from other cities and towns that you had never seen before. Whoever it was clearly traveled a lot, but…
“You know,” Ansel started, interrupting your thought. “I wonder if it’s Saint Nikolaus himself that’s sent all these neat things to us.”
You quirked your brow at the brunette, who was concentrating rather hard on the box he was wrapping.
“Think about it! Who else would send things from so many different places in the world,” he said, briefly looking up to you from the box. “I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head that would do such a thing… aside from Saint Nikolaus himself! He delivers presents to everyone, so it only makes sense!”
There was a level of nearly childish naivety about his thought that brought a grin to your face. He had a point—maybe it was Saint Nikolaus after all.
Ansel sat aside the now-wrapped present before getting another box. “But if these are from him, then I wonder how he’ll feel about us having someone act as him for the festival… I hope that doesn’t make him upset and we get a good actor.”
That’s right—there still needed to be an actor for the merry Saint for the festival! Sitting across from Ansel as you were and experiencing his usual cheer, you wondered why he wasn’t going to play the part.
As if he could read your mind, he frowned. “I’m a little too small and young to pass off as a convincing Saint Nikolaus…” he mumbled. “But I am going to be one of his helpers! I’ll help pass out presents to the townspeople.”
The idea of Ansel dressed up like one of the Saint’s elven helpers was incredibly amusing.
By the time the two of you had finished with your task, it was late at night and you were both exhausted. Once outside, Ansel called for Luna, and you waved him goodbye as you went back home. Wrapping a mountain’s worth of presents all day was more brutal a task than wrangling the nippiest of Kyanite Pygmies.
Without a moment to waste, you threw yourself onto your bed and quite promptly fell asleep.
Chapter Six - Surprises and Silly Secrets
Comfortably asleep in your bed, you rolled over and yawned into your pillow, content with the coziness of your abode and avoiding your festival responsibilities.
“Heeeeyy!” a familiar voice shouted as the door to your home slammed open. “Heyyy! Wake up!”
Perl, your childhood friend, made her grand—and loud—entrance into your home and made a beeline to your bedside.
Just five more minutes…
“Come on, get up!” she cheerily coaxed as she shook you by the shoulder. “You can’t just sleep the day away! You’ve gotta come see this right now!”
Peeling your eyelids open, you sent your friend a groggy glare, which earned a grin in response.
“You might be glaring now but I promise it’s worth it, so come on,” she said once more before taking your arm and practically yanking you out of bed.
With a grouchy grumble, you got to your feet, and almost immediately, Perl grabbed your wrist and pulled you to the door. She seemed really excited about something—whatever it was, you thought, it better be worth being woken up out of such a quality snooze.
The freezing cold cobblestone on your feet was a brutal reminder that you hadn’t even gotten the chance to put on your slippers before Perl had dragged you outside. You wanted to protest, but there was no time to as she continued to drag you at a quick pace towards the town square.
What in the world was so important that you couldn’t even put on some shoes before seeing it?
From a distance, you could see the familiar crazy mop of Ansel’s hair and his signature green and cream courier uniform by the water fountain, accompanied by his Solstice partner, Luna. He was standing right across from another person, shorter than him and wearing much darker clothes…
After a moment of hesitation, you realized the other person was someone very familiar—Ezer!
You quickened your pace towards the group, and your approach caught the attention of Eben, the boy’s Black dragon hatchling. He pawed at the broody young mage's leg. Ezer glanced down to Eben before looking in your direction, and his expression quickly brightened when he saw you approach—well, it brightened as much as his disposition would allow for, at least.
"Oh, look who finally decided to wake up," he commented snarkily as you came to him. "I never thought I'd see you come out of your den of a house..."
The look you sent him made him snicker, and Eben trotted to your side to nuzzle your leg. Both Eben and Ezer had grown a little bit since the last time you saw them, a whole year ago now. Ezer was still a brat, but he was definitely much more comfortable opening up to others—Avery had probably worked hard to get that through his head. And Eben was a much cuddlier dragon than before, you noted, as the little hatchling continued to jubilantly nuzzle you with its head. As wonderful as it was to see the two of them again, you couldn’t help but notice the absence of your other friend…
As if knowing what you were thinking about, Ezer pointed back towards the post office with his thumb. "If you're looking for sir v-neck, he's in the post office."
Though the nickname had caught you off guard, you were grateful for the direction and sent Ezer a smile and a nod. After patting Eben on the head, you headed off towards the post office, where Avery apparently was.
The jingle bells on the post office door chimed as it swung open, and the wood boards of the old building creaked under your feet as you stepped inside. Looking back and forth across the room, you noticed nothing out of the ordinary, and the only person there was the old Post Master, Hand, who was behind the counter writing down something on some parchment. No one else was to be found, not even any of the townspeople, let alone Avery.
Wondering if Ezer had simply directed you here to mess with you, you let out a hum of disapproval before making your way over to Hand. He glanced up to you from his paper and straightened his back as he stood more at attention.
"Good morning," he greeted with a smile. "What can I help you with today?"
Hesitantly you asked about whether or not Hand had seen Avery, as you were told he would be here. The old man's face wrinkled from his smile as he nodded and waved towards the back door, to the room you had been in just the other day with Ansel. Curious, you thanked Hand and went to the back door before slowly turning the knob and opening it up just a slight amount to peek inside.
Inside the room, knelt on the floor, was a familiar cloaked figure, rummaging through... a bag? A really large sack of boxes. An unintentionally loud "um" left your mouth, causing Avery to freeze and whip his head back towards you with an uncharacteristically defensive expression.
One could theoretically cut the tension in the air with a knife, with how thick it was. The two of you stared at each other for a few moments, and when it seemed like Avery was too tense to make the first move, you sent him a knowing grin.
Of course he was the one sending all those boxes here from all over Galsreim.
Your expression caused him to become flustered and he quickly shook his head.
"Don't tell a soul," he muttered quickly under his breath, and you laughed. With your promise not to tell, he relaxed and went back to unloading the assortment of small boxes from the bag he had brought.
"I figured it would make some people's day if they got something they'd never seen before," he said and glanced back over his shoulder at you. "Most people don't get to travel around much, so they don't get to experience a whole lot outside of what they've known their whole lives. Might as well bring some of the world to them if they can't go out to experience it for themselves, you know?"
You nodded at him. His reasoning behind it was sound, though finding out that he was the source of all those boxes you had to wrap yesterday was a bit of a surprise, you admitted. He let out a huff and smiled.
"Ezer thought the same thing about it," he said as he stood up and turned to you. "Do I really come off as such a prickly guy? I know I'm fairly straightforward, but..."
You shook your head and reassured him it was nothing wrong with him personally, which seemed to relieve him a little. Seeing that the bag was emptied of the boxes he had brought, you motioned for him to follow you back out of the room and into the lobby of the post office.
Avery closed the door of the back room behind you both and Hand grinned at the two of you. "A lot more presents, hm?" he questioned, to which Avery simply nodded.
"Yeah... I promise that's the last of them," he said. "Ansel was going to wrap them? I owe him one."
"You'll have to thank him," Hand said. "Besides, he had been quite curious about who exactly was sending all these gifts... you play quite the convincing Saint Nikolaus, according to that boy."
With an awkward glance to the side, Avery decided to change the subject. “W-well, regardless…” He glanced to you. “We should go back to where Ezer’s at…”
You agreed with him, and the two of you bid farewell to Hand before leaving the post office. You made your way back to the town square and to the fountain, where your friends Ezer and Eben were still being distracted by Ansel and Luna.
It was cute, seeing the little Black hatchling crawling all over the larger Solstice, finding interest particularly in her beautiful golden antlers. Luna seemed to not mind, and kept the smaller dragon occupied as all of the rest of you caught up with one another—a year is quite a long time, after all, and surely the two of them would have some stories to tell.
Chapter Seven - Peculiar Presents and Regal Research
After meeting back up with Ezer and Eben at the fountain, the group of you returned to your home-- something your still-shoeless feet had been thankful for.
According to Ezer, he and Avery had been all across Galsreim in just the past year and had seen many things that were beyond incredible, with his personal favorite discovery being a dragon "made out of pure magma." The idea of a dragon made out of magma boggled your mind-- how in the world could something like that even be alive? What a unique-sounding creature. Perhaps one day you could travel with them, you thought. That would be an interesting time.
"Speaking of blazing hot lava," Ezer mused, leaning back in the chair he had seated himself in earlier. "Notice the toasty weather lately?"
Avery hummed and looked to you. "It is warm," he said. "I noticed it last night, on our way here. Do you know anything about it?"
You simply shook your head and sagged your shoulders. You still were at a complete loss as to why the weather was going awry once again. The troublemaker from last year was sitting at your kitchen table right now, with his little sidekick hatchling lazily strewn on Avery's lap, asleep. He clearly wasn't the culprit... and Alhira was as normal as always, without a single snowflake its tropical skies.
There was a tense silence and Avery squinted as he stared at your table, thinking. After a few moments, he shook his head and looked up to the ceiling.
"Tell you what," he said suddenly before looking to you. "First things first. Do you still have that Avatar of Change scale?"
The question caught you by surprise. Avatar of Change scale? From three years ago? Of course you had it, but why would he want to know about that now?
As if sensing your confusion, Avery smirked and moved to carefully dig for something in the satchel at his waist, taking care to not wake up the black hatchling in his lap. He pulled something out but kept it obscured in his hand. You gave him a quizzical look, which made him chuckle.
"Eager to know, huh?" he said before holding out his hand to you and opening it, palm-up, revealing a dark, charcoal-like scale. "I think this will pair fairly nicely with your Change Scale... it's from the Avatar of Destruction. Consider it a gift from me to you for the holiday."
The look on your face made Ezer laugh. "You look like you've just seen a Shadow Walker," he commented and leaned forward in his chair, snarkily grinning at you. "Bet you're dying to know the amazing story behind how we got this, huh?"
You would be lying if you said you weren't interested. Avery rolled his eyes. "It's not a very special story," he said. "The kid's just stringing you along. We were traveling along the volcano range farther north of here and stumbled upon it."
Ezer groaned and flopped back into his chair again, defeated. "You are seriously no fun, Avery," he lamented and you smiled. Even though the story was nothing over the top, it was still quite amazing that they found something so rare by chance...
A quick knock on your door drew everyone's attention. Who could that be? You got up from your seat at the table and went to the door.
Upon opening the door you were met with Ansel yet again. The poor kid, he never could catch a break, could he? Yet he still smiled cheerfully and held out a letter to you. "Letter from the mayor! He says it's really urgent," he said, stressing the really by waving his hands.
You wasted no time in opening the letter, but wondered why the mayor couldn't just walk over to your house himself if it was so important. Upon reading the contents of the letter, you saw it was a summons to his office, and let out a sigh. More legwork. But it did seem urgent-- you gave it that much, at least.
Avery sent a sympathetic smile your way when he saw your frustration. "We'll be here when you get back," he said. "Go on and meet with the mayor."
With all the strength you could muster, you kept yourself composed as you made your way down the chilly street to the mayor's home. After knocking on the door, you were let in by one of his butlers, who bowed at your entry. You awkwardly waved back, and he directed you towards the mayor's office before knocking on the door.
"Come in," came the mayor's voice through the door, and the butler responded swiftly by opening the door and stepping aside to allow you through.
Upon entering the room, the mayor grinned. "Ah! You have arrived, and quickly! Splendid!" he cheered. You smiled at him as best you could, but could not help but be distracted by the other visitor in the room. You glanced in the direction of the other figure there.
He was dressed almost regally, like some sort of lieutenant, with a long black coat and pants with various gold embellishments. And as wildly different his clothing looked, the man himself was even more so; his skin was like molten lava, and flames spewed forth from his head in place of hair. You tried your hardest to hide your shock, but it was fairly obvious to the fiery man that his appearance came as a surprise to you.
With a calm smile, he closed his eyes and bowed his head to you. "Good afternoon," he greeted. "You must be the one the mayor has been telling me about. My name is Coyle."
"Coyle is here from Phyrros, a kingdom far to the south," the mayor explained, clearly rather excited about the visitor. "He heard about the bizarre weather patterns from last year and wanted to come research!"
Coyle nodded, turning his burning gaze towards you once more. "Yes," he said. "I am a researcher. Word of the strange activities from last year has traveled far, though no one specified how long ago it occurred..."
He seemed a little troubled, and you realized he must have accidentally been misled-- perhaps he thought the bizarre swapped-around weather from last year was something currently ongoing.
"However, it seems luck is quite firmly on my side," he continued as he folded his hands behind his back and raised his chin. "Because it is quite hot here now, according to you, mayor. This is unnatural?"
With a firm nod, the mayor leaned back in his chair. "Yes. It is so warm that the snow has started to melt at a rapid pace, as if it was summer. You are more than welcome to study it and see if you could pinpoint the cause. We have a festival to celebrate, and this weather is going to ruin it at this rate..."
These were times you were glad your parka covered most of your face, because surely the deadpan expression you sent the mayor at that line would have gotten you in some trouble. Was he still seriously so consumed by this festival, he would still have that on his mind in a time like this?
Coyle closed his eyes again in thought and you sent a glance his way. After a few moments, he opened his eyes and looked to the mayor. "I will stay and investigate on your behalf, and use whatever I discover for my own research, and for my kingdom. Is this acceptable to you?"
The mayor nodded all too quickly. "Yes, yes. That is fine!"
"Then you will have my assistance," Coyle responded with yet another smile. "I will do all within my power to find the source of the problem."
With Coyle now on weather duty, the mayor turned his direction to you--clearly he already had in mind what he wanted from you, with how firm his stare was.
"Now," he started. "I would like you to continue your preparations for the festival. Do it as fast as you can, and with gusto!"
Chapter Eight - Sneaking Suspicions
Hilde's grunts as she thwacked her axe into a nearby tree were the first thing Avery heard as he made his way towards the northern outskirts of town. His brow quirked, and when he spotted the woodcutter, he paused to watch her.
"Got somethin' to say, or are you just gonna stand there and brood?" Hilde asked rather brashly, sparing him a slight but critical glance before going back to cutting into the tree.
"Oh," Avery was taken a little by surprise. "I don't want to interrupt what you're doing..."
The woman let out an exasperated sigh as she lowered her axe and turned to him, her hand firmly placed on her hip.
"You've already got my attention, kid, what do you want?" she questioned, pressing him.
Avery shifted on his feet and glanced towards the mountain range. "Was just wondering if you've been out that way or not yet..."
The lumberjack hummed and nodded while plonking the hilt of her axe over her shoulder. "Yep, I have. It's nasty. The snow's all turned to slush. You heading to the mountains?"
With a slight nod, Avery looked back to Hilde. "Yeah... I need to check into this whole heat wave thing... the Ice Temple is out that way, and that's where things were all wrong last time, so..."
"Ohh," she mused, suddenly much less short with him. "Well. My advice to you is to be mindful of where you put your feet, pretty boy. Though I suppose you already know that, with how much you wander around."
Though the new nickname of "pretty boy" made him a little bit miffed, Avery managed a smile at the woman. "Yeah, I'll be sure to be careful. Thanks. Sorry for interrupting your tree-cutting."
Hilde shrugged and whipped her axe back down from her shoulder. "No biggie. Not like many people are buying firewood these past couple days anyway-- just tryin' to keep myself busy."
He was sympathetic towards her plight-- it must've been hard on her business when events like this occurred. Nulhorans in general were used to the cold weather, and a lot of small businesses in the area, like Hilde's, were built with that in mind. It was troubling to see such familiar people in such difficult situations, trying to make ends meet.
With a newly-found resolve to help, Avery set out alone towards the mountain range in search of the Ice Temple.
Ezer had managed to find Luna's back comfortable enough as he lounged on it, leaning his back against the back of her neck as he watched Ansel sort through some new parcels just outside of the post office. The younger boy had found the courier interesting enough-- though he was much peppier than Ezer was, he was good company. Eben had similarly grown fond enough of Luna, and her of him; the little Black hatchling had quickly grown to love perching in her antlers or nuzzling into her fur.
The two boys had been participating in mutual small talk for a little while before the approach of another figure caught Ezer's attention. Coyle was walking towards them with an elegant yet firm stride, and his burning yellow eyes were fixated on the Solstice that was with them. Once he was but a few paces away, he stopped, and Ezer sat up straighter on Luna's back.
"Something we can help you with?" Ezer questioned, his voice already laced with clear irritation and distrust.
Coyle looked towards Ezer for only a brief moment, and then to Ansel and Eben, before looking back to Luna. "You, my dear, are a Solstice, are you not? What is a dragon as special as yourself doing here?"
A little taken aback, Luna raised her head towards Coyle, blinking a few times. "Pardon?" she responded.
Immediately realizing how his question could be taken, Coyle waved his hand slightly as if to pause the thought. "Excuse me if I caused offence," he said. "'Tis not what I meant. I am only surprised to see a dragon such as yourself here in such a... quaint town."
Ansel stood up and smiled towards the much taller fiery man. "Luna and I are best friends, and she helps deliver parcels and mail," he explained, and Coyle seemed intrigued by the explanation.
"Interesting," he responded, looking from Ansel back towards the Solstice.
"Nulhora isn't exactly quaint..." Ezer muttered with a frown. "It's bigger than it used to be..."
Coyle glanced towards the younger boy and seemed fairly unmoved. "It is much smaller than my homeland. The kingdom of Phyrros is multitudes larger than Nulhora, I can assure you. Hence my calling Nulhora ‘quaint’."
Feeling a little awkward by the clear tension between the two, Ansel let out a nervous laugh. "Uh... well," he started, attempting to divert the topic, "Luna isn't the only rare dragon here. Old man Janus has been here for a long time... he's a Holly. There's also a lot of others visiting for the festival, like a Yulebuck, Wrapping-Wing, and Winter Magi, as well as some others... It's pretty cool!"
Clearly interested, Coyle put his hands behind his back and nodded towards Ansel. "Quite... cool," he said slowly. "Tell me, is an Aegis amongst the group of dragons here?"
"No," Ezer responded sharply. "Why?"
Coyle smiled a little at Ezer. "Quick to ask questions, you are..." he said and took his hands out from behind his back and held out a hand to each side. "On one side, the dragon is as calm as the night's sky... and on the other side, it has an unquellable rage. It's quite interesting."
Ansel was incredibly intrigued. "Wow, really?"
"Really," Coyle responded. "I was hoping to ask one some questions of my own for my research, since species such as the Aegis tend not to live in warm climates. This would be my chance to meet one, but alas..."
As he trailed off, Ezer continued to stare at him. It was clear the boy did not like him one bit, for whatever reason.
"Well, regardless," Coyle started again. "I must be off. My apologies for interrupting your work, young courier."
"It's no problem!" Ansel cheerily exclaimed and grinned. "I hope you have a good day, sir."
"And the same to all of you," he said and glanced across the small group, his gaze lingering on Ezer for a moment longer before he stepped back and walked away from the post office.
Ansel almost immediately went back to his work, and Ezer stared at the back of the fiery man's head as he walked down the cobblestone path towards the outskirts of town. After a minute, he leaned back against Luna's neck again and crossed his arms.
"... I don't know how I feel about that guy," he grumbled to himself.
Chapter Nine - Foul Fabrications
Your morning had been spent trudging around in the wet snow with Hilde. One of the last things you needed to finish decorating the city was perhaps the biggest attraction: the huge, heavily-adorned tree that would be placed in the town square. The two of you had been debating on what to pick--an incredibly tall tree was needed, but finding that perfectly full tree proved to be difficult.
After what felt like an eternity of searching for a tree, the two of you had finally found the perfect one: a large, bluish-green fir tree, farther into the forest that stretched north from the village. It had been hiding among all the other trees, but was close enough to the path through the forest that Hilde would be able to get it cut down and have it brought back to the village with the help of the dragons that had decided to stay for the festival.
Just as she had ordered you to step back from the tree so she could start to cut into it, an unfamiliar voice caught both of your attentions.
"Excuse me," came a soft, feminine voice from not far away. It echoed in your minds more than it did your ears, and upon looking towards its source, you discovered a light green dragon with a body that almost shimmered. She flapped her blue-tinged wings and stepped towards the both of you. "You... match the description I was given of who to look for!"
You gave the dragon a confused look, and she fluttered her wings once more before swishing her tail. "Oh, excuse my rudeness. My name is Celestia," she said. "I was asked to come fetch the friend of a young man named Avery."
At that, you were even more confused. Avery?
"It's sudden, I know," she continued and lowered her head. "But I come from the 'Ice Temple'... your friend is stuck there and cannot get back..."
This time it was Hilde's turn to be shocked. "How did he manage to get stuck?!"
Celestia's expression turned worried. "W-well, you see, my friend Ziggy and I live there now... Avery came to look around and Ziggy got very angry," she said. "I don't know why, but Ziggy said something about your friend being a troublemaker... and unlike a young Mistletoe such as myself, my Aegis friend is much less willing to listen to your friend's side of the story..."
Your blood ran cold--he was trapped there by an angry dragon?! If he sent Celestia for your help, then it must be way more than he could handle alone, which was a scary thought. Just how angry was this Ziggy that Avery found himself unable to escape?
"Kid," Hilde said, catching your attention. "Don't worry about the tree. I'll go get your dragon friends to help me out with it. Go get your broody friend out of the trouble he's got himself in."
Without hesitation, you thank Hilde for taking over tree duty so you could put all your efforts into rescuing your friend. After telling Celestia about Ezer and Eben, who are Avery's friends as well, Celestia agreed to come back with you to Nulhora to get the boy and dragon before travelling to the Ice Temple.
With the Mistletoe dragon at your side, you sprinted back towards town to go find Ezer.
Needless to say, Ezer was incredibly unhappy upon hearing the news of Avery's plight, and had immediately joined you and Celestia on your rescue mission. The two of you rode on the Mistletoe's back to the mountain range north of the town and after a long flight, you finally spotted a familiar temple nestled amongst the mountains and trees.
No sooner had Celestia's claws touched the snowy ground was Ezer running towards the Ice Temple's entrance. For such a small kid, he really was fast--you leapt off of Celestia's back and followed after him as quickly as you could.
A deep, angry roar rattled the walls as you approached the main hall of the Ice Temple, with the mysterious dragon glyph in the center. Quickly you ran up the steps with Ezer, and once you reached the top, both of you slid to a halt and were taken aback by what you saw before you.
A massive, muscular wingless dragon, with fur dark like charcoal and a stringy brown mane was baring its fangs and roaring at a clearly fatigued Avery. His hands were held up and he had been casting a protective barrier around himself to keep from being hurt, but it was obvious that he had been doing that for a long time, given his weary posture.
"Avery!" Ezer shouted as he ran towards him, with you following suit. Celestia trailed behind the two of you and fluttered her wings as she lifted off from the ground to fly towards the angry dragon.
Seeing Ezer approach made the large dragon grow angrier, and he howled, "You! Child! You are the one behind this, aren't you!"
Ezer's expression quickly grew sour as he ran up beside Avery. "Huh? Behind what?!"
With a click of his tongue, Avery shot Ezer a look. "Ezer, cool it," he said. "This isn't exactly the time for the attitude."
Before Ezer could protest, the angry dragon roared again. "This heat! You are the one that did this! You had done it before, and now again--unruly children that do not learn from their mistakes will face my wrath!"
"Ziggy!" Celestia tried to plead with her friend. "Please, wait!"
The enraged Ziggy hissed and shot his friend a look. "No excuse can be made for this behavior! This child may make this mistake once, but not twice!"
"Hold up!" Ezer shouted and stepped forward, frowning. "Why are you blaming me for this weather, when I haven't even been here! We just got here a couple days ago, and it was already warm by that point!"
"Quiet!" roared Ziggy once more, slamming his claw into the frozen glyph. "Why should I believe the story of a troublemaker such as yourself! I will show you no mercy!"
By that point you had had enough-- your friends were not guilty! You stepped forward, prepared to defend your friends yourself, but were stopped in your tracks by the tiny angry roar of Eben. The Black hatchling jumped off of Ezer's shoulders and landed on the ground before roaring again, flaring his wings at the much larger Aegis. Ziggy growled at the hatchling and lowered his head dangerously closer to Eben, but the little dragon continued to courageously stand his ground.
Ezer moved to step forward and grab Eben, but you quickly put your hand on Ezer's shoulder to stop him-- as scary as it was, it seemed like the Aegis was actually listening to Eben.
After a few long, tense moments, the Aegis slowly raised his head, but kept his eyes trained on the hatchling between you.
"Is that so... so these humans are telling the truth," Ziggy mused. "This baby is willing to stand up for you, and I choose to believe his words."
A huge weight was lifted from your shoulders and you managed to gulp down the lump that had built up in your throat. Ziggy raised his head towards the ceiling and roared, summoning a blindingly white whirlwind of snow that shrouded him from view; there were sounds like crackling and hissing as the whirlwind slowed until it eventually stopped, revealing a dragon completely different in visage.
What was once a terrifying beast was now an elegant, stately dragon with soft blue and white fur and kind golden eyes. Once the initial shock of the change subsided, Avery spoke up.
"You believe us..." he mumbled simply.
"I put my faith in this small dragon that would risk its life to defend you," the Aegis said. "If you had been lying, it would not have offered its life as it had."
Eben, clearly satisfied with himself, purred as he scurried back towards Ezer, who promptly picked him up and held him.
"I am glad you have finally come to your senses," Celestia chimed in as she lowered herself onto the ground. "I was scared you would not let this man free..."
"I had been told that people matching you had been the reason behind the altered weather," the Aegis responded simply, which shocked you and your friends.
What does he mean by that? Did someone really tell him this event was because of you and your friends' meddling? That could not be...
You decided to take it upon yourself to ask the dragon.
"Not but a few days ago, just after the air grew warm, I had been searching for a source of the heat outside," he responded. "Celestia and I were unable to figure out the source, but during our search, we had come across a man who told us he had seen a young, dark-haired child and a few others sneaking out of this temple the night before."
Ezer shifted in place, obviously bothered by the description, since the man in the story had obviously been referring to him, but he elected to remain silent. Avery's brow furrowed and you looked towards your friends, concerned.
"I can assure you, we have not been here since a year ago," Avery said. "Back then, Ezer had altered the weather--that is true, but my friend and I stopped him, and since then, he has been under my wing... he would not do something like that again."
"And I believe you, now," the Aegis responded with a slow nod. "Alas, all the story I had to go on was the one of that flame-haired fellow that told us... hence my anger towards you and your friends."
Wait--had he just said 'flame-haired fellow'? The only person any of you knew that fit that description would be Coyle!
Seemingly coming to the same conclusion as you, Ezer grit his teeth and hissed, "I knew that guy was up to no good."
You told Celestia and Ziggy about the man named Coyle from Phyrros who had just arrived in Nulhora, and how he had said his reason for being there was to study the bizarre weather and find a solution for it. It was clear to all of you now that Coyle was not telling the full truth behind why he was there, especially if he had gone out of his way to lie to the two dragons in the Ice Temple by fabricating a story about Ezer, Avery and you meddling with the temple. This clearly made Ziggy angry once more, though he kept himself composed, and Celestia was further troubled by Coyle's betrayal.
It did not take much to convince the Aegis and Mistletoe to come with you to help confront Coyle back in Nulhora about his lie. The Aegis seemed especially eager to question the researcher.
As the group of you departed the temple, Ziggy spoke up, "Ah. I forgot to properly introduce myself."
Celestia fluttered her wings. "You already know of me," she said to you and Ezer, before looking towards Avery. "My name is Celestia."
"And I am Ziggolaus fon Merrysburg XIV," the Aegis added, "Though... most simply call me Ziggy."
You could see Ezer trying his best to not laugh at the name, and Ziggy narrowed his eyes at the boy curiously. Avery coughed awkwardly to interject before anything more could be made of Ezer's reaction.
"It's nice to meet you, Celestia and... Ziggy," Avery said politely. The rest of you introduced yourselves to the two dragons.
"Never did I think I would meet such a group," Ziggy said. "Full glad am I to have learned the truth, and not eaten the lot of you."
With an exceptionally nervous chuckle, you suggested that you should all head back to Nulhora before it became too dark to travel. Everyone seemed to be in agreement, and with the help of the two newly befriended dragons, you all made your way back towards Nulhora, armed with a multitude of questions for the mysterious Coyle.
Chapter Ten - An Egregious Encounter
Upon your return to Nulhora, you spotted something most unusual: the mayor actually outside of his home, scurrying down the streets in search for something... or someone, you realized, as he ran right towards you as soon as he saw you. What was it he wanted now?
"You've returned! Finally!" he yelled, clearly relieved. "And you are all here! Perfect!"
Perfect? Avery seemed to think the same thing as you and asked, "Perfect? What's wrong?"
"It's Coyle! I cannot find him anywhere! I've sent others to search for him in my stead, but... he's gone! And it's still so hot!" he said, waving his arms in a panic. "I've no idea what to do!"
Ezer seemed unsurprised. "He's gone, huh?" he questioned before hopping off of Celestia. "Can't say I didn't see that coming."
The mayor promptly ignored Ezer's commentary and focused solely on you. "Please, you must help! We'll have no festival to celebrate if this heat keeps up... so, this weather is top priority!"
You sighed. It takes a total disaster like this to finally get you off of festival duty. You were both relieved and frustrated at the same time--if you had been able to look into this in the first place, the problem would have been solved already! You elected to keep your comments to yourself and agreed to assist the mayor in tackling the issue in Coyle's stead. He was grateful, and sung your praises before quickly scurrying back off to his mansion. After a few moments of awkward silence, Avery glanced your way.
"Well," he started. "...It's too bad we have no idea what the actual issue is."
He had a point. Because of how long you had been kept busy with the festival, you had been unable to spend any time looking into the source of the heat. Suddenly feeling downtrodden, you looked to your feet.
"Little one," came Ziggy's voice, which caused you to look up from your feet towards the Aegis. "Do not fret. The answers will come."
Ezer thought to himself whilst staring up at the sky. "...Hey," he said, turning to you, "you've dealt with this stuff before... if it isn't the Ice Temple that's got things all messed up, then where else around here could we check? Is there anywhere else at all?"
You furrowed your brow in thought as you stared at the young boy. If not the Ice Temple, then where else could you check?
Then it clicked. The Guardian Temple, from two years ago!
Avery noticed the look of realization on your face and seemed intrigued. "Seems you've got an idea," he commented, to which you nodded. "Then let's not waste any time, hm?"
With a newfound sense of direction, you smiled to your friends and agreed.
As you led your group of friends and the Aegis dragon to where the old Guardian Temple was, Avery quickened his pace to catch up with you. You looked towards him when he caught up to you, and he sent you a quick smile.
"Funny, this reminds me of the first time we met," he said. "That blizzard... those wily Ice dragons and the Change Avatar's scale. It's pretty similar, is it not? Just this time, it's not a whiteout..."
The parallels were curious, but the memories made you smile. That had been a pretty fun adventure, and that was where you had met Avery, Janus, Reed, and the other dragons that had come back to Nulhora this year to visit.
"Hey guys," came Ezer's voice from not too far behind. "Is that the Guardian Temple you were telling us about?"
You looked from Ezer to the cavern entrance ahead. Surely enough, the timeworn doors of the guardian temple were before you, though something about them was off.
"They're open," Ziggy observed. "I suppose that is not how they are supposed to be, given your sudden tenseness."
The doors had already been opened-- someone had re-solved the mirror temple you had undone a couple years ago to close the doors.
Well, that definitely did not bode well.
With a nervous glance back to your friends, you took them inside the temple. As you directed them through, you saw that every puzzle you had painstakingly undone to keep the temple sealed off after your adventures into it two years back had been solved once again and every door was opened.
Upon reaching the main chamber doors, you paused before the final step, hesitating. The knot in your stomach kept you from taking that last step…
"You've made it this far, and yet you're too scared to come inside?" echoed a familiar voice from within the chamber. Down the path and up the stairs ahead, Coyle stood on the main platform of the chamber, his back facing you as he looked up towards the massive statue of the Guardian of Nature and its Avatars. "Come now, you're so close to solving this riddle. Take the step, and you'll be closer to fixing this spell that has your town so... troubled."
"Now's not the time to get cold feet," Avery muttered to you before stepping ahead. "Coyle, it was? What are you doing here?"
Coyle chuckled and turned his head just enough to look back towards you. "You lot are all smart enough to put two and two together, are you not? Tell me, do you really think I am here just to help you? That I would so humbly accept the orders of such a... pointless character as the mayor of your town?"
With a sudden twist of seriousness, Coyle turned to you, his gaze critical, and a sneer carved onto his expression. "I care not for your town at all. What I care for... is quite simple, actually. Power."
A chill ran down your spine. Though his head was alight with flame, the coldness of his gaze was unrivaled.
"Like a stereotypical bad guy," hissed Ezer, clearly unimpressed. Coyle laughed at the boy's words.
"Perhaps," he responded. "But I suppose that's what makes a bad guy 'bad,' yes?"
"And you lied to Celestia and Ziggy," Ezer added.
With a sigh, Coyle waved his hand. "Again, is that any surprise by this point?" He glanced to Ezer. "Besides, out of everyone here, who are you to be critical of me, child? After all, you are the one that gave me this whole idea of tampering with the weather... with your whole game you played just a year ago."
Coyle's words caused Ezer to stiffen, and Avery frowned.
"So you actually did know about last year's events," he concluded.
"I did," Coyle responded. "I watched from afar and learned from this child's foolish antics. But where he thought on a small scale... I like to think on a much larger scale."
At that, he glanced to you specifically. "I watched you, too-- two years ago, you journeyed to this Temple on an innocent exploration quest. You came to this very hall, to this chamber... surrounded by all these beautiful mana crystals. You saw this statue dedicated to four of the most powerful creatures in all of the world... and you saw a little necklace in the bowl of offerings before it. But you didn't think to take it with you to keep permanently, or even question what it might be aside from a simple ancient gift by the peoples that were here long before you."
You grew cold once again. You did remember that necklace, sure-- but you left it alone because stealing an offering was not the honest thing to do. Seeing the panic in your face, Coyle smiled knowingly.
"You've realized now that leaving that here was probably a mistake," he said and reached into his sleeve before tugging out a familiar old pendant-- the one from the offering bowl. Like before, it made you uneasy, the glint of the gem in the center of the pendant seemingly ominous as it reflected the soft glow of the mana crystals in the room. "Unfortunately for you, you are a little too late. I've already made all the preparations I need... and you and Nulhora will be my first stepping stones on my path to conquering all of Galsreim!"
Coyle raised his hand towards the ceiling and grinned fiendishly as a ring of fire engulfed the area around his feet. You braced yourself as the stagnant air suddenly became violent, whipping up a terrifying storm that almost caused you to lose your balance.
All of you shielded your eyes as a blindingly hot light washed over you. The heat was almost unbearable, and even when the light subsided, it still felt like you were inside of a volcano.
Hesitantly, you removed your hand from your eyes and gasped.
Behind Coyle was a dragon whose visage was more terrifying than anything you had ever seen, even more frightening than when you had first met Ziggy. Embers flitted from its scales and its gaze burned into you as it glowered down at you.
"My friends," Coyle began and spread his hands out to either side, clearly smugly satisfied with himself. "Before you stands one of the most feared dragons in all of Galsreim, the Avatar of Destruction!"
Chapter Eleven - The Extraordinary End
The shocking sight before you made your blood run cold.
You had met the Avatar of Change once before, but his bretheren seemed much less friendly. The Avatar of Destruction's gaze alone was enough to bore into your soul and instill in you a fear the likes of which you had never felt before.
Your reaction caused Coyle to smirk confidently. "Speechless, aren't you," he observed. "You and your little friends are truly nothing compared to my magic."
His haugtiness further frustrated Ezer, but before he could say a word in edgewise, Coyle shot him a bitter look.
"You have no room to interject," Coyle spoke flatly. "It was your little trick last year that gave me this idea, after all. I had researched temples and mana for years... I was trying for so long to find some sort of link--some way to interfere and manipulate the power of this raw mana to my advantage. And then you, a sniveling child, came along and, without even putting much thought into it, solved a piece of the puzzle that I had been working on solving for half of my life!"
The Avatar of Destruction growled from behind Coyle, as if to further emphasize the man's anger. With a sigh, Coyle glanced to the side, as if he did not even want to remotely look in the direction of you and your friends. Absentmindedly, he thumbed the glowing ancient pendant in his hand.
"And yet, all you did was stop there," he added, sounding disappointed. "You could have gone so many steps further, and yet you did not. You felt satisfied by simply flipping some things around, like pieces on a puzzle board... but you never once thought beyond that board. What else could you do with those pieces... you had the very weather in your hands, a primal force of nature no one could hope to control. You had taken it and did with it what you wanted."
His gaze once again returned to Ezer, who was gnashing his teeth in frustration. Coyle sneered. "You had that control but never truly realized what kind of precious power it was that you had discovered! That... for a mere child to stumble upon that power and then discard it like it was nothing, after all of my research... that made me... angry. And for you, to find this necklace those years back and just leave it... not even thinking beyond what your own eyes saw, into what it could be... that made me angry, too."
All of you remained silent at his speech. Ezer out of his anger, Avery out of stoicism, and you out of concern. Coyle seemed as if he had gone unhinged, but there was such a collected air about him that created an uncomfortable disconnect between himself and his own words. He said he was angry, so why was he still smiling?
"Perhaps you are wondering why it is that I am so calm," Coyle said suddenly, as if he had read your mind. "It is simple. There is no point in dwelling on that past now that I have you all here... standing before me and waiting, like the easy targets you are."
Before you even had a chance to register the meaning behind Coyle's words, the Avatar unleashed a massive fireball directed straight towards you and your group-- a gasp was barely able to escape your throat by the time the fire reached you.
However, even though you were expecting the singe of flames on your skin, the feeling never came. You had not even realized you had clenched your eyes shut in fear until you summoned the courage to open them, albeit very slowly.
In front of all of you stood Ziggy, firmly, and in front of him was a barrier of light and ice, shielding you all from the flames.
"Do not let your fear get in your way," Ziggy spoke confidently. When the fire dissipated, so too did the barrier, and Coyle looked incredibly displeased.
"We will not go down without a fight..." Avery spoke slowly as he stepped forward, bow in hand. "Actually... we won't go down at all. We won't lose."
Avery glanced back to you and you gulped. With a slow nod, you stood with more confidence, and Ezer stepped forward with Avery.
"Foolish," Coyle hissed. "I will teach you the futility of fighting against the power of an Avatar!"
The longer the fight between your group and Coyle and the Avatar went, the heavier your fatigue began to weigh on you. The feeling seemed mutual across all of your party, as Ezer began having more and more misfires of his magic and even Avery struggled to nock and shoot more arrows. Even Ziggy had started to struggle keeping up with the fight, and his protective barriers were breaking quicker than they had at the start.
Coyle merely laughed at your misfortune. "I can see the weariness in your eyes," he said. "I told you, it was futile fighting against the power of an Avatar."
As much as it pained you to admit it, you were starting to believe him. Avery's arrows--even his spell arrows--simply bounced off of the enemy dragon, Ezer's magic was dispelled before it even got within range of Coyle, and Ziggy was so preoccupied with keeping you all out of harm's way that he had not even been able to try to get a proper hit on either Coyle or the Avatar. All in all, things were going rather horribly.
Avery cursed under his breath. "This is not going as well as I'd hoped..." he muttered and lowered his bow. He spared a glance your way, though you were too preoccupied to pay much attention, and muttered once more to himself, "Come on..."
With a bored sigh, Coyle shook his head. "It is quite a shame. I expected a lot more from you," he said, looking across the four of you. "But you are just as weak as all the rest. Even a dragon stands no chance against me... such a pity. Unfortunately, I grow tired of watching this hopeless game; I have plans, and I would like to get to them sometime this century."
With a raise of his hand, the Avatar of Destruction flapped its wings once, whipping up a small breeze that almost toppled your weary body over. Burning embers came alive in the dragon's maw as an intense heat filled the room once more--like it had done in the beginning, it was readying its fire breath. Ziggy grumbled as he stepped forward; he was exhausted, but was going to try his hardest to shield everyone from the attack… even though his fatigue meant he probably would not be able to form a shield strong enough to withstand another one of those huge blasts.
Not but a split second later, the Avatar brought its head forward, prepared to let loose a huge ball of flame--surely, this would do all of you in. Terrified, you yelled at the top of your lungs and covered your head in a desperate attempt to keep yourself protected from the fire. There was a burning at your side that felt like lava, and you thought for sure you were being scorched by the vengeful flames of the Avatar.
The soft light that shone against your clenched eyelids, however, felt a lot more empowering than terrifying, and you managed to open your eyes.
Your pocket was glowing... but from what? Carefully, hesitantly, you reached your gloved hand inside to take hold of whatever it was before pulling it out and revealing it to the room.
In the palm of your hand was the Destruction Scale that was gifted to you by Avery a few days earlier, and it was glowing like magma!
Ezer was shocked and proclaimed, "The scale... it's glowing!"
With a click of his tongue, Coyle waved his hand. "A scale? 'Tis nothing to me. My Avatar, finish off these wretched failures!"
A roar that shook the room bellowed forth from the dragon's throat, but no flames spilled forth from its maw. Coyle, frustrated, turned back towards the beast with a critical eye.
Unfortunately for Coyle, however, the dragon's burning gaze was no longer on your group; no, it was glaring down at him.
"Puny, selfish creature," echoed the voice of the Avatar, "how darest thou use that pendant to control me. You have used me as a pawn in your game for long enough!"
"The light of its own scale must have snapped it out of Coyle's control," Avery observed, watching intently. "I can't believe it..."
You gripped the scale in your hands tightly as you watched the Avatar bare its fangs at Coyle. The dragon truly was terrifying. Coyle was clearly panicked-- he had not accounted for something like this happening at all, and he had no idea of what to do.
"N-No... this can't... be happening," he stammered and stepped back, in fear of the dragon he had summoned. "My spell..."
"For using such magic to control me... you shall pay," the Avatar growled. "Thine life shall be the price to pay for your transgressions!"
Shocked, you looked from the dragon to your friends, and then back to the dragon and Coyle. His life? Wait, was that not taking it too far?
Avery seemed to think similarly and shouted, "Wait!"
The Avatar looked towards all of you, and Coyle was still too petrified to move. With a questioning glare, the dragon responded, "What is it, human?"
"You can't kill him," Avery stated firmly and took a confident step forward. "After all he's done, he needs to pay... surely. But there are other ways of doing that..."
The Avatar considered your friend's words. "... I shall put my faith in you, humans. I have heard tales of you from my brother."
You were surprised. Brother?
"The Avatar of Change," Avery noted, and you nodded. "You will trust us to hold Coyle accountable?"
With a nod, the Avatar of Destruction floated back, as if it were sitting on its haunches. "Yes. However strong my rage burns, I will put those feelings aside and allow this situation to be taken into your capable hands."
With a smirk, Ezer huffed. "Awesome. Then that means I get to try this out."
He held out his hand and cast a spell; after a moment's wait, dark coils writhed out from the air and held Coyle's wrists like handcuffs. The man's own fear of the dragon and the shock from losing was enough to keep him from struggling as you and Avery came up the stairs to take the man by his arms. As you brought Coyle away from the platform, the Avatar flapped its wings.
"Human," came its voice again, which made you look back. "My gratitude is yours for freeing me. May we meet again, under better circumstances."
You sent the Avatar a wide smile and nodded.
With another flap of its wings and thanks sent your way, a swirl of flames consumed the dragon, and when it faded, the dragon was gone as well.
Chapter Twelve - Final Festivities
With Coyle's arrest and the Avatar freed from his control, the weather quickly reverted back to normal. The man's magic had quickly worn off and the hot sun was once again been covered by soft clouds, which brought snow.
While you were gone, your friends back in Nulhora--both human and dragon alike--worked hard to finish decorating the town together to surprise you when you returned. Needless to say, the sight of a beautifully decorated and festive Nulhora was a sight for sore eyes after the day you’d had.
The day following your adventure into the Guardian's Temple was the first day of the festival, and after a good night's rest, you were fully ready to participate in the celebration.
People from both Nulhora and Alhira, as well as some other surrounding territories and towns, filled the streets and marveled at the beautiful decorations adorning almost every lamp post, building, and tree in town. You would be lying if you said you didn’t feel proud.
As the day went by, you could not help but notice the absence of a few familiar faces--Avery, Ezer, Ansel, and various dragons, including Luna, were nowhere to be seen. You thought at least Ansel would have been out running around and celebrating, but alas, the sprightly young lad was absent...
You heard a cough from behind, and looked back. The mayor was there, and he had quite a smile on his face. You returned the gesture and he clapped his hands together.
"So," he spoke. "You successfully saved the day again. I am eternally grateful."
To that you simply nodded. You were just glad that whole disaster was done and over with.
"With that all done and over with," he continued, "Did you ever manage to find a good fit for Saint Nikolaus?"
Without a moment's hesitation, your expression went from happy to incredibly deadpan. Was he serious? At your look, the mayor proceeded to laugh.
"I only joke," he said, and you relaxed. "We found a suitable Saint. Actually, he came to us and offered to play the role..."
At that, you were genuinely surprised. Someone offered to play the role, and the picky mayor was willing to let them do it? What backwards world did you step into?
Before you could ask who it was, he interrupted you. "Oh, look! Here comes the sleigh now," he said and grinned as he pointed towards the town square. You turned your head from him and looked to where he was pointing.
Children were excitedly gathering around as a sleigh, pulled by a mixture of dragons and Liud's miniature reindeer, approached the tree in the town square. Ten of Liud's miniature reindeer were pulling the sleigh, and were being led by two Solstice dragons--one was Luna, and the other... was Aurora! She finally must have made it to Nulhora during your trip into the temple.
Aurora's presence clearly made Luna happy, you could tell. It must have been exciting for her to meet another Solstice after such a long time.
Once the sleigh slowed to a stop in the town square, two shorter people jumped off, wearing rather... interesting and festive green, gold, and red outfits. You squinted your eyes as you realized who they were--Ansel and Ezer!
The stark difference between their expressions was hilarious; Ansel was clearly excited as he pulled a bag of what seemed to be gifts out of the sleigh, and Ezer looked like he was dreading every second of it. The poor kid ended up getting roped into being one of Nikolaus' helpers after all.
Speaking of Nikolaus, the bearded figure was still seated in the sleigh and was turned in such a way that you could not see his face as he was reaching for a bag of gifts.
However, once he turned and stood, you had a hard time containing your grin of amusement. Even though the presents were primarily for the children of the town and the children visiting from elsewhere, the sight of Saint Nikolaus passing out gifts to excited children was heartwarming.
Janus slowly came by your side and his tail swished on the ground. "This is quite the turn of events, is it not?" he mused and sent you a glance out of the corner of his eyes. You smiled at the old Holly, and he carefully sat down beside you. "To think, only yesterday was when Nulhora was being threatened by the Avatar of Destruction itself... and now, we celebrate and indulge in festivities. It is quite a relief to see things returned to normal once again."
You could only agree. Especially now that Alhira and Nulhora were so closely linked, this year's festival was the grandest that had ever been thrown and there were more visitors now than ever. How disappointing it would have been if it was ruined by a madman controlling a dragon.
Seeing the children opening their gifts with rosy cheeks and excited giggles warmed your heart, and you could not help but notice even grumpy Ezer was smiling a little as he gave gifts to kids even younger than himself, instead of scowling like he had been when he first jumped off of the sleigh.
What a relief. Everyone was safe, the festival was beautiful, all of your old friends were here, and everything was back to normal. Maybe that was the best gift of all--comfortable normalcy you could enjoy with others.
By the time the festivities had come to a close, you were well tired and carrying your last cup of cocoa for the night as you made your way out to Liud's home. Why go there when you could simply go home and cuddle up in bed under comfortable blankets?
Well, truthfully, you had seen Saint Nikolaus and his helpers scurry off that way not but a short bit ago. Childish curiosity had gotten the better of you and set you on the path you were on now.
There was a warm glow lighting up the windows of Liud's home. Bingo! Your hunch had been right, they did go to Liud's. If the lights were not enough to make it obvious, all the miniature reindeer that had been tugging the sleigh earlier were also back in their stables behind his home, as well.
You made your way down the cobblestone path to his house and stepped carefully up the two steps to his door. Without hesitation, you knock at the door, and after a few moments of waiting, the door opened to you and revealed Liud.
He smiled at you. "Good evening," he greeted. "What brings you out this way?"
Awkwardly and suspiciously, you looked around before asking him if Saint Nikolaus was inside. At that, he chuckled.
"Curious? Yes, he's in here," he answered. "Come inside."
You thanked him and timidly took a few steps into his home. Though you had been there before, the idea of being in the same room as 'Saint Nikolaus' gave you a feeling of childish delight and nervousness.
By the fireplace sat two familiar faces-- Ezer and Eben. Ezer was back in his normal garb, which was a little disappointing since you had missed the chance to tease him for his festival outfit! He sent you a mischievous grin.
"Hey," Ezer greeted.
Eben scuttled towards you and swiftly crawled up your leg and back, not wasting any time to find a comfortable spot perched on your shoulder. You grinned and scratched the Black hatchling under the chin.
"Looking for Mr. Saint Nikolaus, right?" the boy questioned and stood up from his place in front of the fire. You nodded and him and he snickered. "I would say you just missed him, but technically you didn't."
You raised your brow at his words and he waved towards the kitchen lazily. "Dude's in there."
With a smile, you nodded and turned on your heel to walk to the kitchen. Eben cooed at you and fluttered his wings before he lunged off of your shoulder and back to Ezer by the warmth of the hearth.
Upon entering the kitchen you saw Saint Nikolaus still dressed in his full red, gold and white coat, his back to you and folding up all the bags that had held the presents from earlier. With an awkward tap of the tip of your boot on the wood floor, you got his attention and he looked back towards you.
"Oh, uh," came a familiar voice. You crossed your arms and tilted your head at his reaction, and Ezer came up behind you with Eben now perched on his head.
"Adults are so weird," he complained rather loudly. "Avery, if I had to suck it up and dress up in front of everyone, you can suck it up too. You're the one who volunteered for the role anyway!"
With an awkward stammer, the now-outed Avery looked away. "Uh, well..."
His embarrassment at being found out was quite funny--like he was when you saw him with the mystery gifts a few days prior.
Avery removed his fake beard and smiled awkwardly. "I figured if someone had to play the part, I would try it out," he said. "They still didn't have anyone to do it and Janus asked me about it as soon as we got back... So I offered..."
"He actually just really likes the festivities," Ezer interjected, "But, you know. Cool and collected type, and all that. Someone has to be the cool guy of the group and he fits the bill."
Avery shot the boy a dangerous look. With a shake of your head, you decided to let Avery off the hook. Besides, you knew that Ezer was going to pick fun at him regardless of if you did too or not, so you might as well spare the poor man any more embarrassment than he was already going to have to endure.
"I'm sorry to interrupt," came Liud's voice from back in the living room. "But it is getting late, and my old bones need to get some rest after today..."
Understanding, you thanked Liud for allowing you in, and Avery and Ezer thanked him for giving them a haven from the festival. With a smile, he sent you all on your ways, right back out the front door and outside into the night.
The three of you and Eben walked together back towards town, with the hatchling trotting a few paces ahead of you, enjoying himself as he snapped at the snowflakes still drifting down from the sky. Just before you returned, Avery stopped you all at the edge of town, and nodded up towards the sky.
"Would you look at that," he said, and both you and Ezer followed his gaze up towards the sky. In the near distance, you saw what looked like a white amphiptere soaring away. Its scales shone softly in the moonlight and you thought you saw what looked like flecks of green along its back, and gold on its wings--but it was just a little too far away to tell for sure.
"You know what kind of dragon it is?" Ezer asked, actually curious, as he looked to Avery. You looked to your friend as well, and he hummed in thought.
"I've never seen one before..." he mused. "Something new..."
How curious. A dragon that even someone like Avery hadn't seen yet, even after all his travels.
Well, whatever kind of dragon it was, it was quite pretty, even from afar. You smiled up towards the sky as the dragon flew out of sight.
You had been reunited with old friends, caught Coyle, saved Nulhora, enjoyed a very successful festival, and to end it all, got to catch a glance at a dragon that was quite special.
Yes, this ending definitely was the best gift of all.